Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday's home opener between the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars:
1. Get Push Up Front – The Bolts were effective pounding the rock in Week 1, totaling 155 yards to average 4.8 yards per carry against a stout Chiefs defense. Grinding out 155 yards on the ground was the third most in the NFL last week, and is a stark improvement over last season when the Chargers ranked second to last in the league with 89.4 yards per game. Despite the loss, the team was pleased with the way they were able to assert themselves in the trenches. No one had a better look at them than Philip Rivers, who commended the offensive line and overall running attack:
"The o-line was awesome. I thought Melvin (Gordon) did a heck of a job running. He was really running hard, confident and really seeing things well. The guys up front blocked it up well, so we just have to build on that."
Now, San Diego faces another top defensive front that is difficult to run against. The Jaguars were one of the toughest teams defending the run in 2015, and continued that trend with a solid effort last week holding the Green Bay Packers to 95 yards on the ground. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt outlined what makes Jacksonville's front seven so difficult to get push against:
"I've gone against (Jaguars Head) Coach (Gus) Bradley for a number of years back to the Arizona days when he was in Seattle. They just do a good job. They give you multiple fronts, are very well-coached, give you a lot of different things to look at and are aggressive stopping the run. It will be a challenge for us, but we're excited to see if we can continue to build on what we did in the run game."
2. Bottle Up Bortles – Blake Bortles broke out in 2015, tying for the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL last year with 35, which was one shy of Tom Brady for the league lead. Entering his third season, the 6-5, 239-pound passer is expecting to raise his game to even further heights. Bortles made his first career start at Qualcomm Stadium in 2014, and this marks his third straight season facing the Bolts. Head Coach Mike McCoy outlined what makes Bortles such a dangerous quarterback, pointing out how much he's matured since entering the league:
"Blake is a player that we liked coming out of the draft. As a quarterback in this league, it takes time. I think each year and each game, the more you play, the more comfortable you become and you can see how efficient he is playing. I think he has a lot of weapons. I think they have done a good job of putting a number of talented players around him. Being with (Offensive Coordinator) Greg Olson – he does an outstanding job as a coordinator with quarterbacks. He has been very successful. I think the more you play in a system and the more you play with your teammates in the skill positions, the better you are going to be. He has a lot of weapons to go to."
3. The Aliens and the Allens – The Chargers wide receivers go by the Aliens moniker. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are led by a pair of Allens at wideout – Robinson and Hurns. The Bolts know they must clamp down on pair of Jaguars, who form a potent one-two punch. Robinson last season caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns while Hurns had 64 receptions for 1,031 yards and 10 TDs. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano explained what makes them a dynamic duo:
"They've got two outstanding receivers in 15 (Robinson) and 88 (Hurns). They do it so different. (Hurns) is more of an underneath type route runner, and they are going to throw the ball up to (Robinson). You can see that it's coming. It's either going to be a back shoulder or a jump ball. You have to be ready for those things."
4. All About the Benjamin – Speaking with the media in Jacksonville, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said he expects Travis Benjamin to be the focal point of the Chargers passing attack now that Keenan Allen is on IR. Number 12 led the Bolts in targets (eight) and catches (seven), but managed on 32 yards. Still, Bradley said he expects the Bolts to feed Benjamin the ball, noting his team can't get beat by his speed:
"(It's a) different style that (Benjamin) brings, but the speed, the ability to turn a small play, your short catch into a big play; he has the ability to do that. He can take the top-end off, a lot of double moves using his speed, so just very active. It's not like they use him for one thing, but (we) anticipate seeing him as more of a primary threat."
5. Fired Up By the Fans – White Hot Sunday is a tradition going into its fifth season in which the team wears their all-white uniform for the home opener. Not only that, but fans are encouraged to get into the spirit by dressing in white as well. White Hot Sunday has proven to cultivate a tough atmosphere for the opposition as the Bolts are 3-1 since it began. Looking for the first win of the season, Rivers said he hopes for a frenzied atmosphere from the fans when the team returns to the Q :
"We hope the residue from that loss will have dissipated by the time Sunday gets here and the fans are fired up as we will be to play in front of them. (We're fired up to try to) get a win for them and win our first game and wearing the whites only. Guys always enjoy that change up in uniform. We're excited. Had we gone and found a way to hold (on), this one was still going to come (anyway). We are still going to kick the ball off and it is still going to be important. Let's find a way to get to 1-1."